Gardening and Quilting: A Circle of Inspiration

May 25, 2013
Our Yard  After the Big Rain

Our Yard After the Big Rain

About a month ago, our town here in the Chicago suburbs was hit with severe rainfall and flooding. Our schools were closed for the first time ever for a “rain day” and our neighbors borrowed a canoe to boat around with their daughter in our backyards – an experience they felt they would never have again (or at least hope to never have again). Watching the devastation around us, we were thankful that our house was dry and that only our yard was a mess.

Having to pick up raised garden beds that had floated off and put them back in place, we began to get reenergized about our yard and its possibilities. As I laid out ideas first in my head and then with lengths of hose configured around what was left of the existing beds, it was like laying out a quilt. And now, with a bumper crop of  lettuce and kale in all varieties and colors, I am out there studying all of those greens and reds and thinking about how they might all come together in a quilt – or maybe even in a vegetable dye for fabric …ummm.

So, with all of this inspiration going on, I was over the top when my friend and client, Vicki Nowicki announced The Liberty Gardens Project, a year-long series of classes (taught one season at a time) on sustainable living, including organic vegetable gardening and preserving. Vicki and her husband Ron will teach the class in their own garden that is 30 years in the making, a model in sustainable living and gardening. They both have impressive experiences and so much knowledge to share – in 2012, Vicki was selected as a delegate to the International Slow Food Terra Madre Conference in Italy.

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My husband and I are going to take turns attending class and I can’t wait to learn more about vegetable gardening and gather more inspiration for my quilts!

To learn more about the class and peruse beautiful gardening photos, visit The Liberty Gardens website.

Jazz Club – A Free Quilt Pattern

May 6, 2013

Jazz Club - Full View

Thank you to the recent Playing With Fabric reader for asking about Jazz Club, a pattern I designed as a free download for Troy Fabrics to highlight Marcia Derse’s Nouveau Chic fabric collection and first mentioned in this post. Just click on the link below to print a free copy of the pattern. Happy sewing!

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Can I Actually Be a Student Again

March 4, 2013

The answer to that headline is “yes.” Last fall, I took the plunge and became a student again. Okay, it was low risk, virtually no cost, and oh so fun! In other words, very different from my college experience years ago. The class, “Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society,” offered by Cousera.org, was my first big venture into online education and it far, far, far exceeded any expectations I had. The professor of the class, Karl Ulrich of the University of Pennsylvania was phenomenal and was conscientious of the varied backgrounds and circumstances of his students in this class. Another plus, I was able to handle all of the simple technology requirements (e.g., uploading files), complete my homework on time each week and receive an almost perfect score (if I had only uploaded that one photo I debated about, it would have been a perfect score).  Of course, it also helps to have school-age kids in the house who turned the tables and told me to “go do your homework!”

While I missed the face-to-face interaction with my fellow students, it was so inspiring to read comments from others around the world, people who I was reminded live in vastly different circumstances, like the student who wanted to know if there were any other supplies needed besides pencil and paper because the store was two hours away and she could only get there once a month or so.

The outcome of this class will be a future post and product but for now I suggest you enroll and make something – it does not have to be a tangible product, it could be a service, too. The class starts up again on April 29th. FYI, there are many other Coursera classes that sound really interesting, but pay attention to the time requirements for the class when deciding; I have since taken another class and would have to say the time estimates are fairly accurate. I still have to juggle running a business, raising a family … so despite my tendency to want to sign up for two or three classes, I have limited myself to one at a time for now.

P.S. I love the idea of Coursera and how it allows people throughout the world, including those in remote regions, access to some of the top universities. It also opens up a new world to high schoolers who are looking for classes that challenge them in new ways in an area of interest and others who want to keep learning but have limited choices because of  budget, transportation, and/or  limited mobility challenges. I had been looking for a class like this for years, but could not find one in the Chicago area, so when I saw this, I jumped.  I do worry how this will affect traditional colleges and universities and I think many are looking at its impact.

Recipes to Make you Feel Like a Queen for the Day

January 31, 2013

I first heard about the television show Queen for a Day several years ago when listening to American Public Radio’s “The Story,” a great program hosted by Dick Gordon. You can read about the episode here but it looks like the podcast is no longer available.

I remembered this broadcast a few days ago as I lay under the covers trying to ignore the alarm. If only I could be a queen today and have someone else tend to my needs – not over the top needs, just someone to do the laundry, make the meals and clean up afterwards, run the vacuum.  It’s not that I really want to do queen-like duties, I just want eight hours of uninterrupted time to get one step ahead on work projects and get a really good workout in, all the while knowing that the laundry pile is going down and a wonderful dinner is cooking away.

With no one appearing magically at my bedside, I knew it was time to pull out the crock pot and make “Chinese Five-Spice Pork,” a delicious dish that yanks me out of my vegetarian ways for a few days until there is not a serving left in the house.  Here’s a link to the recipe at the blog myplate2yours.

Chicken pot pie is another meal I often make ahead and pop in the oven for dinner. My favorite recipe is from a recipe booklet, “The Weekend Chef,” published by Gold Medal Flour years ago. We often substitute baked tofu for the chicken, and if time is really short, we will defrost and substitute frozen vegetables for the fresh. (Click on the image of the recipe below to make it bigger and legible.)

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Ready to Bake

Ready to Bake

Ready to Eat

Ready to Eat

Remembering the Art and Craft in What You Make

January 24, 2013

The fast-paced world has changed forever the way we communicate, access entertainment, travel (I still insist my kids know how to read a paper map and train schedule), work, and the list goes on and on. For many of us who quilt and sew, our tool kits now include glue guns, Steam-a-Seam interfacing, and other items aimed at making light work out of our craft. I admit while I own a roll of Steam-a-Seam for certain types of projects, one primary reason I make is to slow down. I rush through enough aspects of my day – like shelving the idea of making a from scratch pizza and instead stopping by the local grocers to pick up a “hand-made” one a few nights ago – that when it comes time for making, I want to take my time, think it through, play “what-if” with my ideas, and then decide how to best tell my visual story. I do all of this to get the most out of my craft, to get to that point where even though I may have spent way more time than I budgeted, stayed up much later into the night than I intended, I sink back into my chair satisfied with my output – what is now before me on the design wall. I know when I wake up the next morning, I may be tired, but I will also be energized by my “creating time” and am ready to pour that energy into helping my business clients develop their ideas and tell their stories all with the intention of growing their businesses.

In preparing for a presentation later this week on Ansel Adams to my daughter’s 6th grade class, a class that collectively probably snaps more pictures in one year than Ansel Adams could ever imagine, I want them to learn a bit more about this great artist certainly, but also about the art and craft that goes into taking a photo that draws you in, makes you want to learn more about the situation, makes you stop and think, or just makes you feel differently.

Here are some great video clips from interviews with Ansel Adams on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art site. One of my favorites:  “Ansel Adams on Photography and Visualization.”  Gina, a friend and one of the Partners-in-Art co-directors, sent me the links to these interviews but there is much more to explore on this website so beware that you may get lost here for a couple of hours!

Enjoy the links but why not grab a camera of your own (or your phone) and head outdoors to capture some images of a favorite tree, an icy pond, an old building, or something else that helps define where you live. Slow down, though, and really think about what you want to convey in that image and how – maybe you want to head out in early morning light or at dusk; maybe you want to shoot it up close to show off a favorite branch; maybe you want to print it in black and white rather than color … you get the idea, take your time, put some thought into the project. Other considerations: do the project solo, with a friend, or with your kids; share your work with a neighbor who may not get out to walk around as much as they once did.  And remember, you can always order the pizza or have cereal for dinner  if you get caught up in the process!

Creative Habits: Illustrating a Favorite Book a Page at a Time

January 15, 2013

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In 2011, Moby Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page by Matt Kish was published. If you missed it, go to your local library or bookstore today and pick up a copy.  Why? Because if you are looking to establish a creative habit, this is so inspirational on many levels …

  • Matt Kish is a self-taught artist (day job – English teacher).
  • In 2009, he began producing one drawing every day for each page in the Signet Classics paperback edition of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  That’s 552 pieces of art.
  • He uses a variety of materials and techniques, including pen and ink on found paper,  ballpoint pen on found paper, watercolors on paper … In other words, he did not go out on a buying spree to get all the materials he needed (at least I don’t think he did) and instead looked around at what was on hand for the most part and got onto creating art and experimenting with techniques. I have to believe he felt like a kid again, especially as he got into the flow of the project.

The end result is a wonderful, captivating book that is exciting to look at – I finally stopped counting which illustrations were my “absolute favorite” in the book! If you’ve been trying to get a family member or student to read Moby Dick, this might be the way to entice them to pick up Melville’s classic. They will get a taste of the story from the illustrations and the quote included with each drawing that inspired the art.

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So this book got me thinking, what book would I most like to illustrate? My choice, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, one of the first books I fell in love with as a kid (besides Nancy Drew).

What book would you like to illustrate? Well, get going!

To read more about Matt Kish and see what else he is up to, visit his blog here.

A side note: If you are a fan of Moby Dick and like to be read to here is another very interesting link to check out – The Moby Dick Big Read Project. Unfortunately, you may have to put everything aside and just listen because this ends around January 29th or so.

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Building Creative Habits in 2013 and Beyond

January 8, 2013

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Can I just say I do not think I have ever been so sick with the flu in all of my years, but I’m back – just moving a bit slow still – with lots of ideas flowing for another busy good year!

As 2013 gets under way, many of us have been feverishly setting goals that we hope to achieve in the next 12 months. While everything seems doable on this 8th day of January, somewhere along late spring, early summer, the list looks daunting – that is, if we can find the list of goals! Although these goals – professional, wellness, personal – are important because they give us direction, what I often coach my small business clients on, however, is that the goals are just one aspect of laying out a 12-month, 24-month, etc. plan. Another important piece is to look at your habits – are you investing the time and energy into changing bad or unhealthy ones and putting in place habits that will help you grow and fuel your ideas, in other words, creative habits.

Creativity is not strictly the domain of artists, musicians, and actors. It comes into play across professions and in your personal life. When we start giving the time consistently (i.e., daily or weekly) to think about a problem we want to solve, how to be a better parent, or how to perfect our art, and then experimenting with ideas, the momentum just builds. You are aiming for that place where you get lost in the flow and start looking at things from different angles.

A couple of books that drive this idea of creativity and habit home are:

In the coming weeks, set aside some time each day (or a few hours once a week if you can’t commit to a daily creative practice) … For people who draw, buy a fresh sketchbook and commit to adding a sketch a day, maybe even giving yourself a time parameter  (e.g., draw something but it must be finished within 30 minutes); for people who write, choose a topic to explore and write about it each day for a week, then move onto a new topic; for people who craft, choose  something to explore during the month (e.g., expanding your knitting repertoire); for people who are at a crossroads in their business life, take a step back and begin examining what is working, what is not, and then put in the time to address each aspect. In this latter case, I suggest spending time on a hobby or allowing yourself to take some field trips to places that have been on your list but you never seem to have time for – this opens up thinking and helps create those “aha moments”.

What will your creative habits look like in 2013?

Making Beauty and Doing Good to Heal a Heavy Heart

December 20, 2012

With the Newtown, CT tragedy and other recent world events, topics discussed here on my blog seem so trivial and to be honest, they are trivial.  At the end of the day, however, I stand by my mantra, “make beauty, do good,” so I hope you continue to be inspired by what you read here and on other blogs to make beauty in the world and do good.  My other advice during this time is to take our busy lives and press the “pause button”:

  • Pause to think about all you are thankful for;
  • Pause to listen and really engage with those around you – your kids, other family members, friends and neighbors;
  • Pause to make something beautiful – a nourishing soup to share with neighbors, a warm scarf to give to a friend, an ornament to hang on the tree …
  • Pause to give back – volunteer at a local shelter, donate some needed art supplies to a local school, record a favorite children’s story or poem and send to a grandchild or friend faraway, shovel an elderly neighbor’s sidewalks …
  • Pause to reflect on what Mary Oliver says in her poem, “The Summer Day,” “… Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

You just might decide to keep the “pause button” pressed down.

An Inspiring Visit to the Studio Gang Architects Exhibit

December 10, 2012

I had the opportunity to visit the Studio Gang Architects exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago last week for a second time … so very inspiring. The exhibit is on view through February 24, 2013.

These woven seats are incredibly comfortable and the experience of sitting in this “bubble” of sorts and soaking up all the creativity was quite delightful!

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Just some of the prototypes on exhibit. (This photo is a bit out of focus but it is still kind of cool in a way.)

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A peek into some of the inspiration for one project.

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See and learn more about the exhibit here.

Keeping Time with Paper Calendars

December 2, 2012
Letts of London 2013 Calendar

Letts of London 2013 Calendar

 

A couple of items before I move onto paper calendars: First, I have been a fan of the website Brain Pickings for a long time and was excited to see it profiled today in The New York Times. If you have not checked it out, I encourage you to do so at brainpickings.org – it is full of inspiration.

Secondly, in my last post, I mentioned making a shirt for Audrey, our dog, a process I would detail here if it worked out. Well, my daughter and I think it worked out but with the warm weather, Audrey flat out refuses to put on her fleece sweater (or else it is her way of demanding that we make it from the wicking fabric that her old favorite is made from). When the temps plummet, we will try one more time to put it on her and snap a picture, so stay tuned.

I have given over to technology in several areas of my life, but I still prefer a paper calendar when it comes to scheduling. Something about writing a date down as opposed to entering it into an electronic device commits it to my memory better, plus I just like having that written record. I also tend to make little notes in the margin of my calendar like book titles and CDs I hear about on NPR and want to check out later. I was reminded of my minority viewpoint on timekeeping some time ago when I was at a meeting: When it came time to schedule our next get together, I pulled out my paper planner as everyone else whipped out their cell phones. There was a millisecond where everyone looked at the object in front of me with disbelief. As I later described the scene to a friend, it was as if I had pulled out a stone tablet and chisel! If they only knew I usually have two working calendars – the family one to record everyone’s schedules and a personal one to record work stuff – and one just for show that no one is allowed to write on it because it is too beautiful.

Here are some favorite picks for 2013 …

My work calendar is from Letts of London and is pictured above – I love the stamped cover (and the price, $18.50 at my local bookstore, Anderson’s Bookshop).

Charley Harper – This is one of my favorite artists and one that I was familiar with from childhood books, but was reacquainted with many years ago when I stepped into a small shop on Sanibel Island that was primarily dedicated to his works. Take a look at the calendars here but then spend some time browsing at the rest of the shop items.

originalPhoto from Charley Harper website.

Creative Thursday – A charming calendar to add a bit of cheeriness to any corner; it would also make a great addition to a child’s room. The designer behind this calendar, Marisa Anne, also has several great fabric lines.

Rifle Paper Co. – Last year I purchased their fruit calendar which was gorgeous. They have many great ones to choose from this year as well – especially the retro-look “Cities”.

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Satsuma Press – I have purchased several beautiful letterpress calendars (and stationary sets) from here, including this 2011 one:

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Snow & Graham – They have a number of beautiful calendars – I especially like the “Botanical Calendar” printed on what looks like a dark grey paper.

2013 Botanical Calendar